Tina Charles
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New York Liberty star Tina Charles will return to her former home of Hartford as Team USA will take on the University of Connecticut.

Tina Charles will return to the site of some of her earliest basketball exploits, albeit as an opponent.

The New York Liberty star will dress for Team USA as they continue their pre-Olympic qualifying slate against college competition. On Jan. 27, Charles and the Americans will take on the University of Connecticut Huskies at the XL Center in Hartford (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Charles was a star for the renowned UConn team from 2006-10. She brought back-to-back national titles back to The Constitution State in her final two seasons. She also won the John Wooden Award as the nation’s most outstanding player in the latter year.

Charles departed the school as the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder before she was chosen with the top overall pick by the Connecticut Sun in the 2010 WNBA Draft.

The American squad has been partaking in exhibitions against college competition in preparation for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade from Feb. 6-9. They find themselves in a group alongside Mozambique, Nigeria, and hosts Serbia.

Team USA has already qualified for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo (along with host nation Japan). Their qualification came via their victory in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain.

Previous collegiate opponents for Team USA include Stanford, Oregon State, Texas A&M, and Oregon. In the lattermost matchup, Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu put up 30 points in a 93-86 win for the Ducks. Ionescu is the consensus choice for the top overall selection in the upcoming draft, a pick that the Liberty own.

Charles will be one of four UConn alumnae suiting up for the game, joining fellow WNBA stars Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, and Dianna Taurasi. Team USA will also square off against the University of Louisville on Feb. 2. Charles will not partake in that game due to international duties.

With the WNBA offseason in full swing, Charles is currently competing for the Jiangsu Phoenix of the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association. She leads the team with averages of 24.2 points and 9.0 rebounds.

Back in America, Charles’ Liberty announced the hire of Walt Hopkins, the eighth head coach in team history. Though Charles is a free agent, both Hopkins and general manager Jonathan Kolb stated their hope that she would return for this new era.

The 2020 season will mark the Liberty’s first full-time campaign at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Charles grew up near the area in Queens. Her father Rawlston continues to own and operate a soul and calypso record store and studio in the borough. The store, Charlie’s Records, is less than two miles from the arena and was the subject of a documentary the younger Charles directed and released last year.

Hopkins stated he had not yet spoken to Charles but would begin the process of calling players immediately. He expressed a desire to create better opportunities for her skillset and referred to Charles as “an MVP-level talent”.

Kolb was limited from going into detail due to ongoing contractual bargaining agreement negotiations. Nonetheless, he reiterated the desire to have her around for the times ahead.

“Tina Charles is one of the best players in the world regardless of position,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have Tina without getting too deep. We have to see what the CBA says but there’s no question (we want her back).”

Charles’ last national team action came during the 2019 FIBA AmeriCup competition in Puerto Rico. She averaged 9.0 points over six games and had a double-double (12 points, 11 assists) in the gold medal game, a 67-46 win over Canada.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490